The scene is easily set. Take a good selection of local produce, use existing experience with wine pairing, Sicilian of course and create a grand degustazione.

That was the case recently when Queensland Cricketer’s Club (QCC) President Michael Cowley asked me to create the bones of a meal with QCC’s executive chef, a terrific chap, Fraser Hill.

It was a case of describing suitable ingredients, indicate what wine styles are a match, and bingo, some sensory creation is underway.

To put you in the mood, the seascape pictured is taken from my lunch table, smack alongside the Mediterranean at noon, in the ancient western Sicilian town of Marsala.

Marsala lunchtime seascape

This seaside spot is known as the landing place of Garabaldi when he liberated the island in the 1840s prior to Italian unification.

Not much has changed since then, the finfish have lessened in supply, the Arab food influence is as strong but the Trapinese flavours remain superlative.

And of course seafood is on the QCC menu, in the case of Fraser Hill’s dish, tuna, also caught locally along the Marsala coast, though usually plate size.

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Trapinese-style fresh yellowfin tuna

Chef took some grand yellowfin tuna muscle, trimmed as a fillet, brined it overnight, seared and seasoned it, then sliced it thinly to present on some wafer-thin cucumber.

The accompaniments assist to draw out the saline-subtle sea flesh tastes, very shy and requiring contrast, in this case with low bitterness ruby grapefruit (pink).

Also on the plate is the stark hit of anise from the fennel shaving and chili cleverly drizzled in the green extra virgin oil to remind us of Sicily’s previous Muslim occupation as well as the decoration that oil makes to the dish.

Seafood flavour, like the oiliness is drawn out on your palate by a mouthful of bone-dry white wine-in this case a high acid, light bodied, unwooded vino chosen from the slopes of Mt. Etna (900 metres); of the grape carricante and native to this area since the Greeks last occupied in 3BC.

Chosen was Planeta’s IGT Carricante, 13% (AUD 35), from their recently-established northern Etna property; pale, minerally, savoury, sufficiently understated to tease tuna and mingle saltiness, bitterness and oiliness to sensory crescendo.

Here is the full pictorial of the QCC President’s Sicilian Dinner

Uncorked and Cultivated conduct annual bespoke France tours for small groups in the Sicilian autumn (October) to drinkable destinations. Next bookings are for 2014.

Find out more by visiting http://www.uncorkedandcultivated.com.au/tours or calling Denise on +61 412 403 567.

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Master of Wine Peter Scudamore- Smith has released details of his bespoke 11day France Wine and Food Tour next European spring.Scudamore-Smith laconically says “as well as being undeniably cool, MWs enjoy enviable access to some of the world’s most significant cellars and vineyards, and I guide my guests with a topend wine tour”.

Making use of his unique know-how and allowing guests to tap into his wealth of knowledge andexperience on the beat, Peter has chosen a terrific cross-section of regional French culture, wine styles, wineries (caves) and typical vistas to dent participants’ memories.

In Champagne groups descend to the dramatic but chillydamp chalk cellars of Reims (Pommery, Charles Heidsieck), find the taste greats Pol Roger and Bollinger south of the Montagne de Reims, not missing the fabulous chardonnay makers in the south-Côtes des Blancs (Veuve Fourny in Vertus). The cultural immersion continues in the ancient Cistercian monks’ town of Beaune, home of the famous and charitable Hospices de Beaune museum. Here guests can take their pinot noir overdose paired with local snails, wild rabbit and the region’s famous washed rind cheese –epoisses, in context with the terroirs of Burgundy.

Scudamore-Smith and his wife Denise Wiseman conduct this tour which takes a slice of the cuisines in the regions visited —traditional (paysanne), bistrot, modern, contemporary and elevated (stars). Every day is an authentic experience,designed carefully, shows balance as the tour progresses, and eventually reveals all the classic food flavours. Every major grape varietal is drunk with meals and the vital regions where these wines originate, visited.

Wiseman says “We are the creators ofthis tour, have visited and dissected our restaurants’ food styles, captured the aspect of the hotel views by close inspection, and taken the ride with luxury small bus tour operators to the destinations.”

“We take guests to luxurious old-world hotels with sweeping views, all centrally located, giving quality private experiences within short walking distance during free time. They may explore the history, architecture and traditions of regions when visits are not programmed.”

Tour details

When: 1-31 May, 2014

Start: Paris (central hotel collection)

End: Lyon (centre de ville or airport Saint Exupéry)

Cost: AUD 6950; single supplement (AUD 1350); SPRING SPECIAL save AUD 500 until 31 October 2013

Cities: Reims, Epernay, Beaune, Valence

Wine regions: Montagne de Reims, Côtes des Blancs, Côtes des Nuits, Côtes de Beaune, Cornas, Hermitage, Condrieu, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Complement: 12 people max

Find out more by visiting http://www.uncorkedandcultivated.com.au/tours or calling Denise on +61 412 403 567+61 412 403 567.

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As the Thai hospitality industry enters the second year of the Wine List of the Yearcompetition, a review of the first year traces some interesting outcomes.

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Famed as one of the most penalising countries of Asia in its beverage taxation, it was time to raise the quality bar at restaurants and resorts.

Despite its high beverage price positioning and busy tourist sector, the great wines of the world are occasionally found on Thai wine cards.

Wine List of the Year Founder Jon Hyams says “entry is designed to reward excellence in the field of wine list compilation and to further encourage the development of wine culture in Thailand.”

Hyams continues, “The 2012 winning wine list, The Sarojin, Khao Lak epitomized the future of wine list design and the way sommeliers communicate with and invite the consumer to learn, enjoy and pay more attention to the consumption of premium wines.

THE SAROJIN took three awards – Best Resort List, Best List Phuket Region and Best National List.

When asked what effect the three awards had on his business, Dawid Koegelenberg, General Manager and writer of The Sarojin’s wine list, says; “winning the competition catapulted us into a different stratosphere, and we captured that with our public relations, particularly our travel agents world wide. The Sarojin Facebook page was immediately viewed by over six thousand people.”

“Guests are leaving favourable comments about our wine tasting experiences, and more recently we have groups specifically booking holidays because of it, a real surprise,” he concludes.

Sarojin went outside the square of the older-fashioned wine book listing; made their card simple, entertaining and short for all guests to comprehend.

“Sommelier’s seasonal selection”, “mouth-watering crispy whites” and “purple stained reds” were some of the descriptive terms are used  to invite guests to drink by style rather than by region. This allowed wines from all over the world to be represented, and not just repeat the familiar “Old World” regionals.

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Director of Food and Beverage at Four Seasons Chiang Mai Jasjit Assi says “the awards helped us to understand we were doing something right. There is a direction based on our clients to continue to offer value for money and wines that a global Four Seasons traveller appreciates. We do not have a huge local business.”

“Our strategies are changing for Chinese tastes – cabernet, chardonnay. I realised that to increase quality by the glass had to offer something more interesting that just Bordeaux classed growths (though still needed) or Italian greats; there needed to be more options on grape varietals,” says the Chiang Mai Regional winner.

The 2013 Wine List of the Year Awards will be announced on 11 September.

Uncorked and Cultivated conduct annual bespoke wine and food tours for small groups to drinkable destinations in France and Italy. Next bookings are for 2014.

Find out more by visiting http://www.uncorkedandcultivated.com.au/tours or calling Denise on +61 412 403 567.

One of the most enjoyable careers or professions that you can consider is that of a wine connoisseur. Take wine appreciation to the next level by becoming a Master of Wine.

What is a Master of Wine?

The prestigious Master of Wine award is recognised as the highest achievement in the global wine community. Those who have attained the qualification are equipped with a unique understanding of and set of skills for dealing with all aspects of the business of wine.For more than 50 years the Institute of Masters of Wine has been promoting professional excellence and the highest educational standards in the art, science and business of wine: leading to the qualification of Master of Wine. From its beginnings in the British wine trade in 1955, the Institute’s membership now spans 25 countries while its education, examination and eventsprograms are conducted annually on a worldwide basis.Master of Wine is both a qualification and a title, usually abbreviated to the letters MW following a member’s name. To use these letters an individual must have passed the Institute’s rigorous Masters of Wine examination, which tests their practical and theoretical understanding of the art, science and business of wine.The Institute currently has 300 members around the world. These Masters of Wine are active in all aspects of the wine industry and include winemakers, importers, buyers, retailers, consultants, journalists, educators, sommeliers and senior executives.

Wine education

• develop knowledge and skills in winemaking, wine science, viticulture, wine appraisal and wine business
• learn the science and technology of wine, encompassing wine production, wine microbiology, wine chemistry and winery engineering
• provide an understanding of grape production, factors affecting grape quality, and methods for producing quality grapes
• develop an understanding of wine quality and style by studying sensory wine appraisal.

Benefits of being a Master Of Wine

Getting the Master of Winequalification opens many doors in the wine industry. Be a wine educator, wine show judge, conference presenter, wine journalist, winemaker, vineyard advisor. and much more.

Such people spread awareness about wine making and seek to bring others into the fold of appreciating wines, how to use them in the right way and much more. Being part of the global Master Of Winecommunity gives you the chance to work with people of various sectors within the wine industry such as wine retailers, viticulturists and viticulturists.

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Etna’s best-nerello mascalese grapes

Benanti is one great Etna DOC winery that everyone should visit-it’s a very old place set on a small hill (Monte Serre, 450 m) in the village of Viagrande-on Mount Etna’s eastern slopes.

For a start it is one of the originals to resurrect the Etnean vineyards which had fallen foul of development and the bulk mentality taken towards Sicilian wines in general from the 60s onwards.

Evidence of grape culture millions of years pre the settlement of Sicily was discovered on Etna in 1860 and since that time vineyard production has both expanded and contracted. Today it is expanding again.

The heart and soul of Etnean producers is their palmenti-original yet abandoned wineries that operated by gravity feed and totally by hand labour from the 1860s until the depression in the 1930s where the industry died but the vines survived.

Benanti’s palmento in Viagrande is mid-way through revitalisation but has not been restored for winemaking while other farmhouses are now the tasting cellars and reception halls.

The large wooden grape press handle counterbalanced by a huge granite boulder however gives prominance to the palmento’s doorway. These men must have been one tough race of winemakers to operate such fearsome manual equipment.

Old Palmento Press

Benanti’s seminal white wine is made from the native carricante grape-the best expression being in the Milo region a little north of the cellars, also growing at high elevation (900-950 m).

This wine rides on its fineness. It is pale, slow maturing, unassuming in the mouth until you strike the minerality and acidity, coming around your mouth in a thin stream.

Pietramarina-from carricante grape

It is high end seafood wine which the province of Catania exudes with-swordfish, sea bass, sea urchin, tuna, octapus, calamari and more.

Benanti’s best white is Pietramarina 2008 (96); not yet released; 12%; elegant, smells of small white apples; is lean and restrained; then 2006 (95); subtle and toasty to a small degree, is pale emerald green; then 2001 (96); green, no more colour than that, toasty but still chalky to taste from the dominant minerality.

Three gems, having also drunk the fourth one-2007 (95) when visiting last year.

Serre della Contessa; Etna Rosso DOC (designated red Etna wine) 2006 (90) 14%; contains the two great red grapes of the mountain, nerello mascalese (80%) and nerello cappucio (20%); just a lovely pair to drink here, and take with you.

It’s tobacco, sour cherry, lean and lingering, 2006 is drying, then 2004 (92), 14%; a little funky, dry also, then 2002 (97); 14%; positively great with its cherry-jam notes, extra fineness and line. Great drinks.

Why so good? Well its a mixed-age blend of vines; some pre-phylloxera, over 80 y-olds; falling all over the ground as untrellised and misshapen bushes, low cropping vines, others more recent no doubt giving the blend its vitality.

Ungrafted, 80-100 year-old nerello, pre-phylloxera

Benanti produce a single varietal red; Monovitigno Nerello Cappucio IGT Rosso di Sicilia 2005 (92) from Verzella; 13.5%; having perfume, sweet fruit and very easy to get into; somewhat uncomplicated, spicy and soft; as were 2000 (91); 14%; and 1998 (92); 13.5%; soft landing wines, nice drinks, easy to see that this variety softens the Etna Rosso DOC two grape blend.

Benanti make another super Etna Rosso DOC called Rovitello from a northern Etna site in Guardiola contrada, 750 m altitude, the same 80/20 blend of the two designated red varieties.

This was a great visit. The challenge now is to drink more of these excellent varieties native to Mount Etna.

Donnafugata’s Estates-western Sicily

There was great anticipation in visiting Marsala.

First is the wonderful producer of the near-forgotten wine of the same name.

Then the exotic expectation of the street and beach scenes-more African like with the stark, square buildings, whiteness, both from chalky soils and white beaches, roadsides and salt piles, a startling place which connotes heat and dryness (great for fortified wine too).

Then there is the book-The Leopard which directs me to the notional remains of past Sicilian noble times in the 1890s at the wine properties of Donnafugata penned by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

A cherub who eats nero d’avola!!

The Rallo family from Donnafugata were responsible for rejuvenation of the slowing marsala trade to super table wines from 1983, now with a 150 years of traditional experience, and maintaining a top vineyard (260 ha) at Contessa Entellina, 60 km south of Palermo.

So it was great to enter Donnafugata’s big barrel room to taste across all their wine styles; with even the wines from their island of Pantelleria- 100 year-old Khamma contrada (vineyard) sites there for dessert time.

While you drink these wines ahead, buy the pair of dvds Donnafugata Music and Wine Live -it should make the enjoyment even better.

Donnafugata’s white wines smelt carefully-made. They are modern, attractive form for New World drinkers yet reminding us that the variety is native, and therefore largely unique to Sicily.

What a great place to be! And of course the labels are happy. That improves the drinking because of the positive expectations. Heey.

I tried Vigna di Gabi DOP 1998, 2006 and 2011; a lovely line of the native ansonica (presented as inzolia elsewhere in Sicily); 88, pale green as I expect it to be, tropical yeast, fresh flowers too, endearing, tasting unwooded where it looks the best (ten percent had three months oak.

This is terrific white, gluggable; the 2006 now honied (89) and 1998 (90) even more honied, nice, tight old wine.

Two terrific and fresh native white IGPs were Anthilia 2011 (catarratto and ansonica, 90); and Polena 2011 (catarratto viognier 88); the latter crossing  alsoover with a chewy French variety.

However these natives just don’t “do it” when blended with chardonnay as the result is a gharish, chewy, over-coloured range of wines. Best leave chardonnay to the cool sites like Etna DOC where the racy, minerally tastes that I had were just divine-not fatness there!

That’s advice from a consummate maker of “new style” minerality-derived chardonnays. Colour must be pale straw, not irridescent green-gold.

Polena 2011- catarratto and viognier

Then there is the most anticipated moment of tasting Sicily’s most favoured red grape-nero d’avola. It comes in many great forms, all enjoyable and it is intriguing to witness the polarisation of style that is developing.

Donnafugata are unashamedly modern, and outfit their neros with tiny tipples of oak aging in French barrels.

I just loved Sherazade 2011 IGP (88); the anthesis of wood-aged wines; this is an entry-level drink, all cherry-juice fruit and fresh, ripe berries, lowish alcohol, all stainless steel-aged for brief life drinking.

The serious nero was Sedara 2010 IGP (91); just an appealing wine, smells sweet, tastes savoury-an ideal outcome; a racy wine, not too alcohol hot, not too oaky either.

Then there is the single vineyard wine from Contessa Entellina: Mille e una Notte 2010 IGP (94); heavenly, cherry-red, rich, oak-sweet, intense, extremely interesting, just engaging on the palate with its “New World” oak weight, still uncoiling, so it has another decade of drinking. One emphatic nero.

Also tasted were 1999 (92) and 2003 (86); the latter too oaky for my preferences.

Mille e una Notte-single vineyard nero d’avola

The next highlight of visiting was to walk below the tasting room to the cavernous barrel room to taste barrel samples. Just for fun.

The single site neros (Miccina, Mazzaporro), shiraz (Casale Bianco), cabernets, tannat (Predicatore) and petit verdot (Pandofina) from the 2011 harvest, bottled much later, show excellent promise to stir my sensory imagination.

More important than tasting was hearing the resident soloist, Jose Rallo, the owner’s daughter serenade her guests with her romantic songs-deep under the ground in a starlight barrel cellar. Goose bump stuff.

Donnafugata say they are a jazz-paced winery blending rules and creativity, feelings and technique. Now that is very sensitive-very Sicilian.

Masters of Wine Tasting-Cottanera

What a pleasant day to visit the Cambria family, makers of Cottanera, on a sunny spring morning.

Etna was behaving itself though there was a thin cloud of steam emitting as one looked across the nerello mascalese vines towards the south.

This visit was hailed as a property taking the international approach-the philosophy focussed on international varietals and a more international style of winemaking.

Cottanera today is reversing its trend and philosophy, and I was there to investigate. We were in Castiglione di Sicilia.

This brand is current in Australia and is becoming well known.

The welcoming party was extensive-principal Vincenzo explained the wines, assisted by Enzo, Emanuele, Francesco and Mariangela.

I took to the Etnabianco immediately because the grape used is really going to be the white face of Etna in future-carricante. It just loves growing at this elevation and produces great results.

Etnabianco 2011 (88) 13%; DOC Etna is pale, not an aromatic or tropical wine, its making in stainless steel actually preserves its terroir; its all about the taste, the minerally, stony notes, long and lean, mouth salivating and delicacy to boot.

The international winemaking here is all about the cool ferment-it preserves fruit and the delicate notes which the grape possesses.Curiously there is is ten percent catarratto included (the western Sicily white used in Marsala) which must be an experiment to see how it performs on Etna. Good so far.

The more international style white is Barbazzale Bianco 2011 (88) 12.5%; IGT which blends a terrific local white-inzolia with Rhone-origin viognier, and gives it a big slap of skin components.

The word barbazzale means golden beard for those curious about the naming.

This looks like work in progress as both varieties have a tendency to taste chewy. This is a step up in body over the loveable, racy, carricante.

Classic Etna Red

The Barbazzale Rosso 2011 (89) 13% DOC Etna is back to traditional Etna red grapes-nerello mascalese and nerello capuccio housed in some new French oak which was evident; these grapes have a lovely texture and softness, even at entry level wines.

The internationalisation of Etna’s prima red grape, nerello mascalese goes one stage further when blended with merlot and shiraz at 15 percent.

That makes Fatagione 2009 (93) 13.5% IGT; a hybrid of flavours which captures the silkiness of nerello with the bigger and fleshier merlot and shiraz; it works well in a new French oak barrel for a year.

The key to this style appears to not being heavy handed with the international pair-keep them in small proportions so the long fleshiness of nerello is not interrupted. Other vintages 2008 (90) and 2010 (92).

Cottonera make a big monster chewy Merlot called Grammonte 2008 (87) 14.5% IGT; other vintages 2007 (90) and 2009 (88). And a curio variety, a savoury Mondeuse called L’Ardenza 2007 (90) 13.5% IGT.

Finally I had to deal with how cabernet sauvignon grows on this mountainside. Cabernet is a very important grape, and the better ones around the world become the domain of collectors. It’s a variety with a great capacity to age and also excite.

This was my first Sicilian cabernet. It did not come across as a cool climate style (Yarra Valley) so I had to make warmer regions-McLaren Vale comparisons.

Nume 2007 (90) 14.5% IGT is a big chunky style of rich and ripe cabernet, has fifteen percent franc, ample layers of ripe cassis and minty fruit, powdery tannins and plenty to satisfy hearty drinkers. Other vintages 2006 (90) and 2008 (91).

The verdict: international versus indigeneous varieties; both types are well-made wines, people chasing honest and original wine will ask for carricante and nerello; new drinkers will just buy international if they are allowed to do so.

A true test of the winemaking is in the straddle of international varieties with local so that the wines produced become the unique personality of the property, local terroir and therefore the lasting and distinctive part of branding.

Owner Vincenzo Cambria (right) | Etna smokes

Etna has special values-it’s a great destination.